Definition Essay – Adam Tutolo

Defining Human Nature

Diffusion of responsibility is a physiological phenomenon whereby a person fails to take action when someone is need of help or in danger. People do not act because their sense of responsibility is negatively affected. The responsibility is often diffused over the group that is present in the situation. Many factors play into what the outcome will be. Characteristics such as age, gender, and race will affect the decisions of the onlookers. In almost all cases people tend to think of themselves before others although, the tendency to choose themselves increases when there are more people present in a situation. Diffusion of responsibility goes against how a person would normally react to someone in need. Responsibility is diffused others and the bigger the group the less responsible people feel.

This whole research subject started when a young girl named Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her home. Neighbors heard her screams for help, but no one came to her aid or called the police. None of the neighbors wanted to take responsibility for helping this girl and all thought someone else would help. This event led to the nationwide research on the subject of diffusion of responsibility.

The television show, “What would you do”, provides us with plenty of great live evidence at diffusion of responsibility occurring. This is the best source out there on this subject because viewers are seeing the phenomenon actually happen unbeknownst to the bystanders. The show specially picks factors to put into the act to entice the bystanders. For instance when a female is cheating behind a man’s back hardly anyone speaks up. However when the man cheats behind the woman’s back everyone speaks up. This proves how gender plays a huge role in the process of diffusion responsibility.

There have been many studies done over the years on diffusion of responsibility.  One of my favorites was described in an article by Russ Dewey.  Students met at Columbia University to fill out a questionnaire, they were divided into groups. One set was a small group where students were taking a test in a cubicle by themselves. Another set was a larger group of students that were taking the test in pairs. Then suddenly the students heard a loud crash then a woman screaming, “Oh My God, my foot! I can’t move it! Oh…my ankle…I can’t get this thing off me!” This was obviously staged, but the students didn’t know. Seventy percent of the students who were grouped alone reacted to the situation, however only forty percent of the students who were grouped in pairs reacted to the situation. The students all knew they were in a group. In the larger group people felt less responsible and continued testing thinking someone else would help them. In the smaller group a good percentage of people helped because the students felt more responsible for the girl. In this case there was less responsibility to be diffused.

Many people believe that the bystanders’ actions are peculiar. People forget that the bystander believes he is not being judged or watched. The act of the bystander ignoring the victim is often caught on camera and this puzzles most people. A person would think that if someone was in need of assistance around a large group at least one person would step up and take action. However it is almost always not the case. Usually if there is a smaller group present it is more likely for someone to step up and help a victim. With a larger group most people diffuse the responsibly to someone else in the group and no one ends up helping.

Overall the theory of diffusion of responsibility is a perplexing phenomenon. The theory doesn’t follow the social norm and surprises people often. In all scenarios responsibility is being diffused into the group and the victim is left in danger with no aid.

Works cited

“What Is Diffusion Of Responsibility?” Psychology. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

“What Is Diffusion Of Responsibility?” Psychology. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

“Definition of Diffusion Of Responsibility.” Tweens. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

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2 Responses to Definition Essay – Adam Tutolo

  1. davidbdale says:

    Hey, Adam, as you may recall, I respond to your essays with feedback as I read them, so you’ll know how at least one reader reacts to your argument as it unfolds. I hope you find this helpful.

    P1. You’ve got some serious mechanical flaws to address here, Adam. I’ve marked them with color. Some are flat-out grammar and punctuation problems; others are strong style recommendations. Ask me which is which if you’re confused. Don’t let any of the errors slip through to your portfolio.

    Next, please find a real source. is a good place to find an idea or two, but it doesn’t begin to qualify as a resource for an academic research paper. Use it to lead you to the psychological studies that describe or quantify the results of careful investigations.

    You say diffusion of responsibility is a “physiological phenomenon,” Adam, which means it’s not psychological. According to you, the body is reacting to a situation, not the mind. How does the body affect our sense of responsibility? It’s fine to say that age, gender, and race are factors that affect our decisions, but what does that mean? Are young, or female, or Asian people more or less likely to “think of themselves”? “Effect” means nothing by itself.

    P2. This illustration is confusing. Are you saying the gender of the person in need of assistance is the controlling factor? I thought you meant the gender of the bystander was the important variable. The fact that I can’t tell which one you mean is crucial.

    P3. The general impressions of the general population aren’t very valuable, especially if you have evidence to the contrary. Trust your evidence and present it. What would be worth hearing is the reaction of a person who realizes too late he should have helped. How does he explain his diffusion of responsibility? That is what you’re interested in, so how do the bystanders themselves explain it?

    P4. You won’t prove anything by making generalizations as vague as “how someone was raised.” You can raise twelve kids the same way in the same house and six of them will walk away while six of them will help. Or ten and two. Or two and ten. There isn’t enough evidence in the world to prove this generalization.

    P5. Of course the theory does follow a social norm; otherwise, there wouldn’t be an identified norm. It’s a social norm to help if you’re the only person available and it’s another social norm to hold back if you can, hoping that someone braver or better qualified (or more authoritative), (or wearing a uniform), will arrive and relieve you of the responsibility. That’s clearly a social norm, isn’t it?

    You haven’t displayed much rigor here, Adam. Just a few days to bear down and bring home the real sources, real science, clear claims, strong evidence, and solid conclusions.

    Grade recorded.

  2. davidbdale says:

    This is markedly better than the original, Adam, and benefits greatly from the illustrative example from Columbia.

    Your writing still includes confusing sentences, such as this one that does not make clear whether the bystander is puzzled, or whether we’re puzzled by the bystander: The act of the bystander ignoring the victim is often caught on camera and this puzzles most people.

    Grade revised.

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